Some 250 dogs were found in animal shelters to act in White God, a genre-bending film about precocious 13-year-old Lili (newcomer Zsofia Psotta) who is heartbroken when her father gets rid of her dog Hagen. When the city of Budapest puts in place a senseless measure to tax impure breeds more than purebreds, he is unable to bear the costs for the mongrel Hagen, and leaves it by the side of the highway.
The film was warmly welcomed in the Un Certain Regard programme at the Cannes Film Festival this year with its surprising mix of realism developing to a dystopian dog-revenge slasher. With this approach director Kornél Mundriczó takes a drastic turn in his work towards genre experiments. Mundruczó sais he wants to address the past and future of Hungary through “vengeance films and the allegorical qualities of animal stories, where typically a narrow stratum rules over a greater mass. This is becoming increasingly true for Europe as well. If we don’t pay attention, one day the masses will rise up.”
Through spirited storytelling and cross-cut editing, the actions of Lili and Hagen function as mirrors on these rancorous present-day social relations. Both are battling to find friendship and respect. Lili is fighting her father’s heartless decision by being disobedient and searching for Hagen. Hagen, in turn, soon realizes that not every man is a dog’s best friend. After being picked up by a dog trainer who builds him up to win illegal dog fights, hatred and anger towards humanity takes shape in Hagen.
You could reproach White God for a cliché plot, juggling with grand themes like revolution and justice. But at its core, Mundruczó tells a simpler truth, which upholds throughout the film despite its stylistic twist: man becomes dog because of elitist behavior and vice versa. “To tell this story I chose animals as the subject instead of minorities. Because I wanted to focus freely on this sensitive subject, with as little taboos as possible.” NH
Kornél Mundruczó, Hungaria, 2014
Written for the festival daily of the Golden Apricot Film Festival, 2014 Yerevan (Armenia) / daily #1 – 13th of july 2014